Was this apothecary jar made at the Napanee Glassworks?

apjarThis glass jar of a type used in drugstores surfaced in Michigan.  It has lost its lid.  It is hand-blown, with two applied rings.  The rings are rather crude and of the type known as overlapped seam.    There us a  pontil mark (pontil scar)  on the base.  The jar is 8 inches tall, and the body is 5 inches in diameter.   In appearance, it is certainly similar to several other examples from Ontario, which have been tentatively attributed to the Napanee Glassworks, but without any confirming proof.

The dealer says that this apothecary jar shows a strong, yellow florescence under “black light”, which (he tells me) means that there is a high level of magnesium in the glass. 

The Napanee Glassworks was a venture of John Herring, 1818-1896.  Herring was a very successful foundryman who manufactured farm implements.   The 1870’s were economically challenging years for Napanee.  Herring conceived the idea that a glass factory would create jobs and help end the recession.  He thought that the city fathers would  joyfully get behind the endeavour, but unfortunately the idea failed to capture local imagination.  Herring found himself over-extended financially.  He also was unable to satisfy the master glass-blowers whom he had hired to teach local men the craft.  To add to Herring’s difficulties, the Bay of Quinte Railroad (ie., the Rathbuns) cut off the south entrance of the works, resulting in a law suit. 

So, the Napanee Glassworks was only in business for under three years, 1881-1883.  It is gone and nothing of it remains.

From historical research and from the shards found during an archaeological assessment, we know that the Herring works was making bottle glass and whimsies.  A glass cane at the Lennox and Addington County Museum has the strongest claim to be from the Napanee Glassworks due to provenance.  Local tradition says that Herring also sold mercury balls (so-called “witches’ balls”) which were popular ornaments at the time, but it is unclear whether he made them or imported them for resale.

After years of effort trying to associate specific glass products with the Napanee factory, we must conclude that all of Herring’s products were unmarked, so it would be a great thing if we could connect even a single item to the factory by chain of ownership or other evidence, such as an invoice.

There is nothing to say that this apothecary jar is not from the Napanee Glassworks, but if so, how did it get to Michigan?  Did Herring’s short-lived, struggling endeavour succeed in competing in American markets?

Incidently, I come from a long line of foundrymen myself.  My father told me that in the 18th and 19th century, the men would dip their mugs into the water which had been used to cool the heated metal.  This water was believed to have special strengthening properties, and it probably did, being rich in iron.  However, as industrialization progressed, other less desirable elements were in the foundry water, resulting in cancers.   John Herring died of stomach cancer, so one wonders.

Many thanks to Tom in Michigan for allowing me to use his photograph.

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Filed under Archaeology, History, Ontario, Material culture

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